+ In Nomine Jesu +
"When (Jesus) went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things."
"But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they *said to Him, "Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?" 38 And He *said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look!" And when they found out, they *said, "Five and two fish." 39 And He commanded them all to recline by groups on the green grass. 40 And they reclined in companies of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them."
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
It is not uncommon for us to hear a passage like this one from Mark 6 and wonder why we haven't been the beneficiary of such a miracle. Jesus fed the multitudes. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He made the blind to see, the lame to walk and the deaf to hear. We know He did all those things because His Word tells us so. We read each account and perhaps wonder, yes, but where is my miracle? Why should things be so different for me than for these people who experienced God's compassion and might in such a real, tangible way?
Writing to the Christians in Corinth, Paul addressed a flaw in their understanding of their relationship with God that continues to show itself in each of us still today. The Corinthians possessed the Spirit of God, as does every Christian. However, as those who possessed God's Spirit they ceased to see themselves as receivers of the continuing manifold blessings of God. In other words, they saw themselves as having everything they needed to live a godly life.
Paul challenges their high mindedness and self-sufficiency, saying, "what do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" His point is clear. While we may think that we are not the recipients of God's continual blessing, the fact is, we remain from cradle to grave, receivers, those whose very life is sustained by the giving nature of God. In his book Grace upon Grace, John Kleinig, a Luther Pastor, sums up our dependence on God this way. He says, "If God should for one moment stop giving to His creatures, we, and our world, would cease to exist."
Luther understood that our continual need for God's grace and goodness puts us in a childlike position before God. He went so far as to say that, as Christians, we are all "beggars." In fact, the night before he died Luther wrote a short little meditation on how he had learned to understand the Scriptures from his pastoral experience. His short reflection ended with the words, "We are beggars. That is true."
Are you smarter than Corey? Corey is the co-host of one of the radio stations I listen to in the morning. On a pretty regular basis the station plays a little game whereby a listener is given five questions to answer. If they answer more questions correctly than Corey they win the game and, of course, a prize.
Rarely do they ask questions involving Biblical content, but, this past week there was one such question. The question was "what was the most popular boys name in 1999?" The hint brought the Bible into play. The most popular boys name in 1999 happened to be the same as the name of the first book of the New Testament. A further hint was given…was it Matthew, Luke or John? The call in contestant answered correctly. It was Matthew. The co-host, however, answered John.
It may seem strange to us that anyone could be so ignorant of God's Word, as to not know the name of the first book of the New Testament. Corey must have been somewhat embarrassed, or, perhaps she wasn't embarrassed at all. Unfortunately she isn't alone in her lack of knowledge of the Bible.
We just returned from Maine where we vacationed with Brian and Andrea Watson and our other good friends from our seminary days. Maine is a beautiful state and I have to say the temperatures there were a welcome relief from the heat we've been experiencing around these parts lately. Maine, as declared on the license plates of locals, is "vacationland," because it attracts so many people this time of year to its rugged wilderness.
Maine has another distinction too and a rather dubious one at that. Statistically it is among the most un-churched states in the nation. In New England, only Rhode Island, at 28%, sports a lower percentage of residents who attend church on a regular basis than Maine. Maine comes in tied with Massachusetts at 31%. The national average, by the way, is somewhere around 44%.
Who knows why the people of New England have generally shut the church out of their lives. In all things they tend to keep to themselves. Maybe that's why they shun organized religion. I played with them a bit while we were on our trip. When two Texans pass each other on the street they say "hello" or "howdy" or something of the kind. When two Mainenards walk past each other they don't say anything. In fact, they probably don't even look up at each other. In Maine I would walk by someone and say, "hi, how are you." They're response was amazing, at least to this southerner! They literally didn't know what to do, or how to react.
The radio co-host didn't know the first thing about the Bible. Many people in the state of Maine have shunned community and in so doing they've shut Christ and the church out of their lives. These folks are what Jesus described as "sheep without a shepherd." Throughout their lives they remain dependant on God, but they don't know it! Rejecting the shepherd, you see, doesn't make the one who rejects Him less dependent, or, less of a sheep, it simply makes him like a "sheep without a shepherd." Thinking they are the masters of their own destiny, safe within the cocoons they've woven around themselves, they are, in fact, prey to every philosophy, every ism, every purpose and cause that drives the hearts and minds of men away from God.
Throughout this chapter in Mark's Gospel Jesus teaches His disciples, as well as the masses. He then employs His disciples to do the same. You find it in verses 2, 6, 11 and 34. The point is, God's word is what forms us, it is what constitutes who we are and it informs the manner in which we live our lives, it even determines our expectations of God. More than anything, by His Word, we come to know God, not as we think He should be, or, as we want Him to be, or, as we fear Him to be, but, as He really is. We stand before Him as beggars, our hands open, that He might fill them with every good thing. And in a way that only He can, He exalts us lowly beggars to sit with angels to sing His praise and to declare His glory.
When Jesus saw those people on the hillside that day He had compassion on them because "they were as sheep without a shepherd." The disciples were all milling around and Jesus turned to them and said, "I want you to feed them." I other words, I want you to shepherd them! And, of course, they said, "you want what? You want us to do what?" "Are we to spend 200 denarii to buy enough food for all of these people to eat!?"
Perhaps later they could pick up the connection between the feeding of the 5,000 and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. In both cases Jesus took bread and broke it. He looked to heaven and gave thanks to His Father and He distributed that life giving element to hungry people.
And so we continue to turn to God with open hands. We are beggars who sit with angels. We cannot exist without our God, without His providential care, and, most importantly, without His forgiving grace and mercy in our lives. He fills our hands with those things that are good for our body and soul. We are confronted with the question of "what do you have that you did not receive?" And we respond joyfully, saying, nothing! Nothing at all! In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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